Online Networking: Timesaver or Timewaster?

by : Samantha Cannell

'Networking' seems to be a popular buzz-word amongst the business community and for good reason. Many businesses generate over 75% of their business via networking and word of mouth referrals so it makes sense to take networking seriously. But what about online networking? Should it be part of your marketing strategy? Can it save you time and what are the benefits?

Firstly online networking should never be seen as a replacement for face to face networking. Building relationships takes time particularly if they are in an 'online' environment. The main online networks are:

Ecademy (paid)
Linked In (free)
Facebook (free - social and business)
Business Scene (paid)

If you cannot attend or afford off-line networking events then online networking may very well save you time but it is very easy to get caught up while on the net and waste your valuable time. Set a time limit for your online networking, little but often works well for many people.

How does it work?
Most sites require you to set up a profile and you can link back to your website. Ecademy also offers clubs to join, a marketplace for listings and a blog section. People can view your profile and if you are of interest to them they will send you a message. You can search for contacts of interest and this may help if you are trying to reach your niche market. Linked In works very differently and you set up your network from your existing network. You can then tap into your contacts networks and grow your network organically.

Who will you meet?
You will soon see that there are valuable contacts to be made but there are also those predators that are salespeople for various money-making schemes (or should I say scams?). I tend to ignore messages from these people rather than wasting my time replying. Online networking can be very effective for meeting contacts you would not normally have the opportunity to meet and sites like Ecademy offer a range of clubs and forums where you can gain insight into various topics. Online networking is great for raising the profile of your business but don't expect it to be a major driver of sales until you have built up a large online network.

If you see online networking as an opportunity to meet contacts that you normally wouldn't in the offline world and learn a few things along the way then you won't be wasting your time on it. You may save time by tapping into the resources these networks provide rather than ploughing through business books trying to find answers. Finally, spending hours on these sites each day would be a complete waste of your time so set a limit and stick to it. If you find it is interfering with your day to day work then perhaps you need to consider 'logging off' for a while.